Venomous Critters and Gardeners

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on February 28, 2011

We as gardeners are more at risk for bites and stings from venomous critters than most folks. We move leaf litter that might hide a copperhead snake, reach in the shadows where a black widow spider might lurk, and are around bees and wasps a lot. This is not to say we should be afraid, but we should be alert and prepared.

The alert park is important. Watch where you are putting your hands and feet. Make sure nothing else is using that space before you enter it. There are only four poisonous snakes in the United States: rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, and coral snakes. A few states, such as Florida, may have breeding populations of cobras, but most people do not have to worry about those. Learn what the poisonous snakes look like. Leave other snakes alone. If bothered, they will bite, and it hurts, but it won’t kill you. My Dad took my sister and I to the Dallas Zoo and taught us to recognize poisonous snakes when he could not break me of picking snakes up to look at them. Now you can look on the internet and learn them there.

Black Widow Spider on web

Black Widow Spider on web

Just as most snakes are beneficial, so are most spiders. There are only two, the brown recluse, or violin spider, and the black widow spider, that are poisonous to people. There is a tarantula in Arizona that is venomous, too, but otherwise the spider hurts when it bites but won’t kill you. Black widows look like this picture. Fuzzy black spiders are not poisonous. Black and white spiders are not poisonous, either. Leave them alone, they catch bugs.

Most of us go to a lot of trouble to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Bees operate under the “don’t bother me and I won’t bother you” rule most of the time. Wasps are a different story. They will sting you if you come close to the nest, to them, or just for grins. They are the only thing that I poison on sight at my house. If they are out in the pasture, I leave them alone, but near me, they go.

This leads to the prepared part of gardening. I am allergic to wasps, and travel with an epi pen. If you know you are allergic to ants, bees, wasps, or whatever, make sure you have your medicine with you. Attacks occur unpredictably, and you don’t want to keel over before you reach your medicine.

Be sure you know the number for poison control in your state. In Texas, they have magnets and phone stickers for free they will send you. They also have a brochure on bites and stings and on poisonous plants. They have other information as well. You have to be a Texas resident to get the stuff I mentioned, but there is a lot of information on their website for everyone. There should be an equivalent place in your state. Either do a search or check the phone book, but make sure you have the number handy.

Gardening is a safe and enjoyable past time. A few precautions such as those mentioned here make it that much safer and more enjoyable.

Gardenbookfrontcoverthumbnail For more help gardening, buy my book, “Preparing a Vegetable Garden From the Ground Up.” Available in print Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu. or eBook, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nursery Cribs March 2, 2011 at 7:56 am

Spiders scare me the most. Even though you can be surprised by a snake, they are much easier to see – but a venomous spider can get you before you even know it’s there. Creepy.


Stephanie Suesan Smith March 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I dislike spiders more because I make enough noise walking that most snakes hear me and move. Spiders are usually where I can’t see them and nail me for invading their turf. The spider in my photo lived in my tack shed — with several hundred sisters. My Dad had to spray the shed because of the danger. Playing tug of war with a black widow for your saddle is a bit dicey.


Nursery Cribs March 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Ack, you’re kidding! I assumed it was a stock photo from the web somewhere. I’ve only ever run into a black widow once, and it was out in the open by a swimming pool – and no siblings nearby. That was bad enough!


Stephanie Suesan Smith March 3, 2011 at 6:49 am

I don’t use stock photos. Unless it is a product or clearly labeled as not mine, I took all the pictures on this blog.

Black widows had a nasty habit of spinning nests in outhouses. When people sat down to do their thing, they got bit on the butt, literally. Brown recluse spiders did the same thing. Gives new meaning to that phrase, doesn’t it?


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